The James Wilson Foundation on Natural Rights and the American Founding

“Thoughts on a Late Administration”: Professor Arkes in The Catholic Thing

by James Wilson Institute on January 14, 2021
History, Politics

In his column for The Catholic Thing, Professor Arkes details the mixed legacy that President Trump and his administration will leave when he departs the White House on January 20th. There were certainly many victories for his administration over the past four years, Arkes writes, such as the confirmation of judges who respect the Constitution, the establishment of peace deals in the Middle East, and the deregulation of the U.S. economy. HHS in particular delivered common sense policies that allowed doctors and nurses to act according to their consciences in moral matters. But Arkes argues that Trump exits the White House with much to be desired, leaving a Republican party without a clear direction and without control of either chamber of Congress. A significant portion of this blame can be laid at the feet of Trump himself, whose brash personality and way of doing things did much harm at times. Ultimately, Arkes concludes, the qualities that drew many to Trump in the beginning and brought him early success dragged him down at the end, exposing a man who lacked the “habits of loyalty and obligation” to lead his country and his party through the challenges that it faced. 

Some excerpts from the piece:

“We had here an Administration doing many good things, at many levels, by people who had formed their convictions and cultivated their competencies long before the advent of Trump.  And the irony was that at the top of all of this was a man who could not speak in sentences, or explain the rationale behind so many of the policies that his Administration was putting in place.”

“Still, those things could not have been done if he had not touched something in a large portion of the American people, a sense that the governing political class was insensitive to the people they were  pleased to rule. Without him, we would not have had three promising appointments to the Supreme Court, along with fifty-four new appellate court judges, who seem inclined to sustain those laws coming from the States, trying to put more limits on abortion.”

“His appeal was that he had not absorbed the habits cultivated in the political class. And yet his achievements sprang precisely from the policies and perspectives of his party. Trump came apart because he was so consumed by his own anger and grievance that he was willing to press them even at the cost of two Senate seats in Georgia and the loss of the Senate for his party.  With that move, so much of his legacy now may be swept away. What he was missing was that finer sense, caught by Edmund Burke, of the habits of loyalty and obligation that were cultivated in a political party.”

Read the full essay here.

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Law and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge.
— James Wilson, Lectures on Law, 1790